March 2022 - 16

MSU study seeks mitigation of crop uptake of PFAS
By Cameron Rudolph
Michigan State University
Five Michigan State University (MSU)
researchers have received a $750,000
grant from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute
of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study
crop uptake of per- and polyfluoroalkyl
substances (PFAS) and how to prevent it.
The project is led by Hui Li, a
professor in the Department of Plant,
Soil and Microbial Sciences (PSM) who
specializes in soil chemistry and the
environmental occurrence and fate of
emerging contaminants. The four
co-principal investigators are from PSM
as well.
* Stephen Boyd - a University
Distinguished Professor and
expert on remediation of
contaminated soils.
* Ray Hammerschmidt - a
professor who studies plant
physiology and disease resistance.
* Kurt Steinke - an associate
professor and MSU Extension
specialist in soil fertility and
nutrient management.
* Wei Zhang - an associate
professor of environmental
and soil physics who looks
at the transport processes of
contaminants in soil, water and
plant systems.
PFAS contamination has made
headlines around the country, and there
is mounting concern about the effects
these chemicals have on public health.
In response, MSU has invested in the
Center for PFAS Research and has
developed several
partnerships to
address the problem.
Research is looking
to quantify the
exposure risk to
humans and the
develop possible
strategies, and explore PFAS alternatives
for industries that have relied on them.
For the newly funded project, Li and
his team are evaluating novel ways to
immobilize PFAS in soils to prevent
plants from coming into contact with
them. Since the group believes soil pore
water is the primary carrier by which the
chemicals move to the plant root zone,
they hypothesize that soil amendments
could prevent plants from taking in
" We believe the primary vehicles
used by PFAS to enter agricultural lands
are contaminated irrigation water or
land-applied biosolids, which are used in
the agriculture community to improve
soil health and provide nutrients, " Li said.
" But there is increasing evidence that
they inadvertently introduce harmful
chemicals to soil, water and plants.
" It's extremely difficult to stop PFAS
from entering the environment entirely,
but we're working to uncover methods
that make the chemicals less bioavailable
to plants for uptake. "
The team will perform lab,
greenhouse and field experiments to
quantify PFAS in soils irrigated with
PFAS-contaminated water. Then, they
will test two sorbent materials - layered
double hydroxides and modified
biochars - and their ability to take in
PFAS. Researchers will assess potential
PFAS leaching from these materials.
They will seek to validate the findings
by comparing test plots of carrots, corn
and wheat using soil amendments to
control plots without amendments.
" This research will ideally identify
field-scale approaches to preventing
PFAS from entering crops, " Li said. " It's
important that any strategies we design
are efficient and implementable on
agricultural operations of all sizes. "
Li's efforts with PFAS began with
seed funding from Project GREEEN
(Generating Research and Extension
to meet Economic and Environmental
Needs), a partnership among MSU,
Michigan plant agriculture organizations
and the state of Michigan.
The goal of the Project GREEEN
work was to evaluate the uptake and
accumulation of PFAS in food crops
from soils amended with biosolids.
Researchers developed ways to analyze
PFAS in plants, while publishing a
comprehensive review paper that
updated current knowledge on
plant uptake of PFAS and identified
information gaps.
" I'm very pleased that Project
GREEEN assisted these researchers in
obtaining federal research funding to
address this important issue, " said Jim
Kells, Project GREEEN coordinator.
" This is a great example of the intended
outcome from Project GREEEN grants. "
The seed funding also led to another
recently funded PFAS project from
the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA). Li is examining current
biosolid treatment processes for PFAS
concentration and leachability, and will
attempt to bridge knowledge gaps in
the fate, transportation, occurrence and
plant uptake of PFAS. The data will help
researchers create models that quantify
exposure risk to humans.
" This is a significant public health
concern that requires our immediate
attention, and there are a lot of
knowledge gaps in both basic and
applied research, " Li said. " Our team is
thankful to USDA, EPA and our many
other partners for their support. " FGN
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March 2022

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